Leadership’s Essence Part 2


“The very essence of leadership is that you have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”
– Theodore Hesburgh, Priest & President Emeritus, University of Notre Dame.

On the Geo-political stage I have been witness to two distinct trends.

In the last month , we have had two important elections in which close to quarter of the world’s population voted. The European Parliament elections and the Indian National elections. Differing Geographies, socio-economic stages of development and compulsions. So how did these differences manifest?
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Europe’s voting percentage dipped to 43; India’s went up to 67.

Europe seems awash with disillusionment and despair despite the support of some of the world’s most developed economies. In contrast, India sees green shoots of hope and possibilities in the face of more than 20% population struggling below the poverty line, high fiscal deficit and halting economic growth.

In Europe, support for the traditional and establishment parties have dwindled in favour of anti- EU radical groups. In India on the other hand, the votes have gravitated away from the extremists towards one of the main political parties.

A growing perception of a pan Europe crisis has led to the loss of faith in the competence and motives of the political leadership. Interestingly though, an equally high perception of an Indian development crisis seems to have led to renewed faith in the ability of the political leadership to sort out the mess.

What is it that makes the more socio-economically advantaged and aware folks in Europe react so much more negatively than their Indian counterparts?

I muse about the disparity of the reactions. I muse not to determine and assign cause for what might be going wrong or right. But to try and uncover what is it that really creates such disparity.

I come to the conclusion that it is all about how the situation occurs for folks. And the way the situation occurs actually goes a long way to determine the sense of well being folks carry irrespective of what their actual situation might be. This ‘occurring’ really is what leads people to act and articulate the way they end up doing. Simply put, if a situation occurs as threatening or detrimental to me, I act, behave and speak negatively, hunker down and avoid risks. On the other hand, when a situation occurs to me as holding opportunities and promise, I am positive, full of initiative and willing to take risks.

So what is it that can alter how a situation occurs for us? I believe this is where true leadership comes in. A leadership which creates an overarching vision of a Future. A created future that addresses the concerns of not only the Leader but all involved parties. A future into which everyone comes to live into. A future which allows everyone to act, speak and behave in the present in a way that is consistent with the future being envisioned and lived into. And this is when the magic happens. We begin to shift out of our directionless present day challenges and drudgery. Our mind and thoughts dwell less on these immediate perceived ‘negatives’ and more on the big picture vision we begin to hold of the future being created. Situations begin to occur more as opportunities that support our forward movement and less as energy sapping bottlenecks.
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As I think of the above, I am left wondering whether this could be the way forward in the increasingly complex and fast changing world we inhabit. A near universal access to information, knowledge and the resulting transparency has become a great leveler. The traditional Leadership’s power base of knowledge and information control is fast eroding. Could Leadership let go of its obsession with power and control and embrace the work of co-creating with others a future which is not going to happen anyway?

In Learning………………… Shakti Ghosal

Leadership’s Essence.


“All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.” — John Kenneth Galbraith, American economist, public servant & diplomat, 20th Century.

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The outcome of the biggest democratic exercise the world has ever seen – the Indian Elections of 2014, is now known. After thirty years of coalition politics, the election has thrown up a decisive mandate this time with the main opposition party, BJP taking over. Come evening, the news channels continue to vie with each other as they analyse the underlying reasons which led to the 800 million eligible voters in the land vote the way they did.

The sense I get from the screen images and media language is of two contrasting approaches which found articulation in the campaigns.

Of the Ruling party, the Indian National Congress’ ad nauseam declaration of improving the lot of the dispossessed, the oppressed, the poverty stricken. Seeking the support of large swathes of people conditioned to portray and be portrayed as victims. People taken for granted as ‘vote blocks’ with the trigger in the hands of the political master.

Of the Opposition party BJP’s this time around targeting the emerging young, the first time voter, totally unencumbered of any baggage from the past. A very different kind of voter who is impatient, aspirational and keen to play a part in his / her own destiny. People who like to be engaged regarding their own development and creating new possibilities.

So what is it that has allowed the BJP gain such an impressive mandate and victory? As I think of this, I get the sense that the intrinsic thinking of people seems to have shifted. From a subsidy,’hand me down’ expectation to an aspirational mindset. From a passive, ‘I am a victim’ outlook to an active ‘I would take control of my destiny’ conviction. So how did BJP and its leader Narendra Modi harness this shift? I see two leadership aspects come into play.

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First, the magic of a created future. A Future that excites both the Leader and the people. A future that beckons to all to come to live into. A future that is consistent with the leader and his past track record. A future that appears plausible to realise one’s dreams.

Second, that inner commitment to something bigger than oneself. A commitment that shapes the Leader’s thoughts and actions beyond any direct personal concern or payoff. A commitment that creates that certain ‘something’ in people around to which they themselves start to feel committed.

Could it be that Mr. Narendra Modi, the man who spearheaded the BJP campaign, was able to envision a future that wasn’t going to happen anyway? Could it be Mr. Modi emanated that aura of a higher commitment from which the aspiring masses could get the sense that their lives are indeed about something bigger than themselves?

In learning…….. Shakti Ghosal

Winchester and the follies of Leadership


A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.

– Lao Tzu , Chinese philosopher, 6th century BC

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The quiz master asks, “Where did the famous Winchester rifles originate from?”

“Winchester of course!” I quip back.

The Quizmaster gives me a quizzical look.

 ***

 As I land at London Heathrow and take the coach to Winchester, I recall the above incident. Traveling through the beautiful English countryside of Hampshire, I reach the town.

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The coach stops in the city centre with the statue of King Alfred the Great visible in the distance. Winchester’s claim to fame began during the Roman times and indeed became a Roman province with defensive walls all around. But it was during the Anglo- Saxon times that it reached its zenith and the cross shaped Saxon street plan as laid out by King Alfred can be seen even today.

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I was there to meet up with Stanley, the owner of a Management Consulting company. As I stepped into his office, Stan introduced me to Nick, his protégé and the current CEO of the firm. We got down to discussing a joint venture proposal in the UK for which I had sought the services of Stanley’s company. But the discussions never could take off. Every time I would seek advice and Nick would start off on possible options, I found Stan interrupting him.

“That surely could be one of the ways to proceed,” he would say, “but it might work better if you….” and then he would veer off into a rambling story off how it had worked for him many years back in a different context. As Nick, after a while, tried to get back to what he had been saying, he would be interrupted almost immediately by Stan who would again take the discussion into yet another of his personal success stories.

As the outsider, I seemed to be stranded in the middle. As the discussions flowed more around than with me, I quickly realised that we were not going anywhere with our main agenda.

As I walked away from failed negotiations on the JV, scarcely noticing the old medieval city walls, I pondered. Why do Business leaders like Stan have this intrinsic need to win, even against their own? Is it a deep down insecurity about one’s insufficiency to handle a world and environment that has changed? Could such insufficiency be making Stan avoid the right focus and seek refuge and comfort of past glories? Does Stan realise that such frequent “peeping over the shoulder” approach, though well meaning, could in fact be fast reducing Nick’s commitment to the organisation?

 ***

 And so I come back to the question of where the Winchester rifles come from.

Well, the rifles had their origin across the Atlantic when, just before the American civil war, a certain Oliver Winchester had the vision to buy out a bankrupt gun company in New Haven, Connecticut. The repeater rifle he redesigned was a huge success with the Union army and, after the war, the company became renamed as “The Winchester Repeating Arms Company.” So path breaking and visionary was the design that it earned the nickname of “The Gun that won the West.” For almost a century thereafter, the Winchester name remained synonymous with vision and success. It was in the 1960s that the company chose to forget what had made it successful in the first place, refused to embrace technology changes and in fact did faulty redesigning of its firearms. It was downhill thereafter till the company was split up and sold off in 1980.

As I muse over the Rise and Fall of Winchester Guns, I see its parallel in the mindset of Business leaders like Stan. As they build a company through vision and change, somewhere along that long and arduous road, such leaders choose to get stuck to their own perceived ‘success recipe’. This attachment veers them away from all that which made them successful in the past. An attachment which leads to a refusal to acknowledge a changing future and the possibilities it brings. A refusal which pushes business away, as it did my proposal.

In Learning…………………….                                                Shakti Ghosal